Elinor Wylie was an American poet who found fame during her lifetime for her beautiful poetry, as well as her personality and appearance. Despite this, she had somewhat of a tragic life, something that often comes through in her poems, as it does in ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope.’ This piece includes the speaker’s analysis of her life, the hopelessness of hope, and the impossibility of living as she wants to. The mood is mostly downtrodden, but depending on one’s interpretation of the last lines, it might contain some happiness.
Explore Now Let No Charitable Hope
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by reminding herself that she’s not free. Even though she might like to be, she isn’t a free-flying or running eagle or antelope. She’s of a different breed, a human born alone and female. This has complicated her life and made it much harder for her to take pleasure from it. It’s so difficult to find happiness that she compares the process to squeezing a stone. In the final lines, she suggests that she’s been wearing a mask, one that is austere and outrageous throughout her days.
In ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope, ’ Elinor Wylie engages with themes of women’s lives and women’s rights, as well as oppression/freedom, sorrow/joy. Wylie’s speaker, who may very well be Wylie herself, describes her life as one filled with a struggle for happiness. It doesn’t seem as though anything comes easily to this speaker. She works to try to make a life for herself, but her gender impedes her as men put up roadblocks to her happiness. She longs for the kind of freedom that wild animals have but has to remind herself that this kind of life isn’t for her. It’s unclear at the end of the poem whether or not the speaker ever found a way to be truly happy or if sorrow penetrated every moment of her life.
Structure and Form
‘Now Let No Charitable Hope’ by Elinor Wylie is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The structure is consistent throughout, with all of the lines around the same length. All of the lines contain eight syllables except for the first two lines of the second stanza.
Wylie makes use of several literary devices in ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, anaphora, and caesura. The first of these, enjambment, is a common formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a sentence or phrase before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of the second stanza.
Anaphora is a kind of repetition, one that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “I,” which starts the last line of the first stanza and the first three lines of the second stanza. “I am” starts two of these as well.
There are also a couple of examples of caesura in ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope.’ For instance, line two of the second stanza. It reads: “I am, being woman, hard beset.” Caesura occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. This might be indicated by the punctuation or by a break in the meter.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am in nature none of these.
In the first stanza of ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope,’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title. She reminds herself that she might experience moments of hope that she could be as free as an “eagle” or “antelope,” but these should not “confuse” her mind. In reality, she says, she is not an eagle, antelope, or any other free creature able to traverse the world however they see fit. She belongs to a different category, one that is explained and explored in the second stanza. The speaker reminds herself that she is ‘in nature, none of these.”
I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
The little nourishment I get.
In the second stanza of ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope,’ the speaker goes on to say that rather than a liberated animal, she is a “human, born alone.” This statement seems to confirm that she sees her life as lesser in some ways than that of a creature in nature. She’s born alone into the world, without the companionship of others, and to add to this, she’s a “woman” and ‘hard beset” by this fact. Her life is made more complicated and more difficult by the fact that she’s a woman and has to fight for every freedom she aspires to. Nothing comes easy to her, she’s suggesting.
The third and fourth lines contain an interesting metaphor that helps the reader understand how difficult the speaker’s life is on a day to day basis. She describes the process of acquiring “nourishment” as so difficult it’s like squeezing something out of a stone. The “nourishment” can be interpreted as happiness, satisfaction, or pleasure. It’s difficult for her to indulge in any of these things.
In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.
In the final four lines, the speaker adds that she’s moved through, like in “masks outrageous and austere.” She’s worn the faces she’s been told to wear and acted in every way that’s been demanded of her. This creates the image, backed up by the second line that life has been a simple procession of moments. One comes after another, each as “austere” as the one before.
The final two lines make the poem slightly more complicated. The speaker adds that none of the years have “merited” her fear nor have any “quite escaped my smile.” The last line could be interpreted as though the speaker has found some joy in her life or that she’s put on a simile throughout the years of her life, even if she was finding no joy or pleasure in her days.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some of Wylie’s other poems. For example, ‘Fire and Sleet and Candlelight,’ ‘Escape,’ and ‘Cold-Blooded Creatures.’ The first of these is a short poem through which an impassioned narrator speaks about a wasted life. It includes themes similar to those present in ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope.’ ‘Escape’ describes how the narrator will leave the lackluster world behind her and escape to a house of her own she has yet to build. Once again, readers can likely find some similarities between this piece and ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope.’ Finally, ‘Cold-Blooded Creatures’ describes a speaker’s view of mankind and its inability to show interest in, or care for, the lives of animals.